Have you ever gone out to a fancy sit-down dinner at a restaurant and wished you could take home the stunning dinnerware, the elegant place setting, or even the fabulous chair? On June 8 invited guests of The Feast, a fine-dining experience hosted by students from the School of Art + Design’s Department of Product Design, will get to do just that.
For the past 10 weeks, 14 senior undergraduate product design students have been busy at various studios on campus and around town, sawing, designing, building, hammering, constructing, molding, and sewing in preparation for this one special event where at the end of the night, patrons get to take home their individual place settings as mementos of the occasion.
According to instructor Tom Bonamici, the course PD 485: Feast is designed to give students a taste of the real work world—to collaborate as a team to achieve a finished result. From creating a production schedule and mocking up designs to rolling up their sleeves and helping each other, students design and produce every object, down to the dishes, furniture, lighting, textiles, and utensils for a formal dinner for 60 guests.
Bonamici says he wants his students to have fun, but he makes it clear from the beginning that the process will be run like a company to the highest professional standards, with real-life deadlines under constrained time and resources.
“The constraints are many,” he says. “There is a menu that they have to work around and respect. There’s a very tight budget—$1,500 dollars. And then realistically, there are only eight weeks to get the whole thing to come together.”
All of the design work centers around specific themes of the menu, which Party Downtown, who is providing the meal, is broadly calling “Japanese meets American Southern with Northwest ingredients.”
“This year our keywords were words like ‘playful’ and ‘gentle movement’ and a few vague words that offer direction. The color work is a little inspired by the place we’re in—both this building (942 Olive) and the Northwest,” Bonamici says.
After a couple of introductory weeks, actual production begins and each team is assigned a group leader. Senior Haley Zadow, a material and product studies major, was the lead on the furniture-building team. Although ceramics is her specialty, Zadow says she has enjoyed collaborating with others and learning new skills. “I’m in charge of the furniture, and I’ve had people coming and going, I’m helping them and they help me with my stuff.”
Another student on the team, Em Friedenberg, says, “Most of what I’ve been doing has been in the woodshop, so getting strips of wood and putting them in the steam box, then taking them out and wrapping them so they take another shape, but I’ve had an opportunity to do a little bit of everything.”
The students give initial design input, but ultimately everything is created from the same template. The ceramics this year were mostly slip cast (made using a mold). All the cups are glazed to the same specification. This consistency makes it easier to create 50+ place settings and benches. “The students get the opportunity to work in a production-run studio environment, so it’s not so much revision, revision, revision—that’s important for the design process, but in the professional environment you don’t have the opportunity to do that; it’s more of a turn and burn,” Bonamici says.
While the first feast, introduced in fall term 2016, was hugely successful, Bonamici says that this time around, production has become more streamlined. It is helpful, he says, to try and play to the particular expertise and strengths of the students, but often they must simply jump in where they are needed the most, an important exercise for preparing them for jobs in the real world. “Sometimes they have to do plates all day, but that’s a really good introduction to working on a design team,” he says.
Student Emilio Halperin agrees. “I’ve enjoyed putting my ideas forth. Even if you don’t know how to necessarily make something, everyone gets to have their voice heard.” And even though he says the course has been hard, it’s also been a lot of fun. “It’s been amazing. It’s one of the only fully collaborative classes that I’ve had in college, and what’s cool about that is that sense of working together on something bigger rather than just your individual projects. It’s been awesome.”
The students are eager to celebrate their hard work as well as observe the guests using the items they’ve designed and made from scratch. “It’s very exciting, Freidenberg says. “The whole thing is like a big surprise. It’s like an unveiling, I can’t wait to see people’s reactions!”
Tonight’s event is also a celebration of 10 years of the product design program. “It’s a huge milestone for a program that started out with a handful of majors to nearly 50 this year,” Bonamici says. “Everyone is excited about being able to see and participate with the design work and the students feel really good about being able to show their work to a broader audience than just a few faculty members who are critiquing it,” he says. “Everyone loves to sit down and celebrate.”
Learn more about the 10-year feast.
Senior undergraduate product design students have been busy at various studios on campus and around town, sawing, designing, building, hammering, constructing, molding, and sewing in preparation for the feast.
Story by Sharleen Nelson